Freshly Pressed: Washington’s First Certified Organic Cranberry Farm
Starvation Alley Farms, Long Beach
August 10, 2015
A stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, Starvation Alley Farms welcomed seventeen farmers and community members to learn about organic production of cranberries and value-added products. Owned and operated by Jared Oakes and Jessica Tantisook, the pair took attendees on a tour of their two businesses – the cranberry bog and the juicing facility. Cranberry expert Kim Patten (WSU) and his lab technician and cranberry grower, Chase Metzger, joined the walk to answer questions about production of this North American native fruit.
The walk began at Starvation Alley’s ten acres of certified organic cranberry bogs. When they began transitioning to organic, the bogs presented plenty of pest and disease challenges. For example, there is no organic control for twig blight, so Jared and Jessica have had to live with it and burn really bad areas of bog affected by the fungus. They also hand weed in the winter and have found it difficult to deliver enough nitrogen to the plants with organic products. Jared shared that they have essentially been completing research while trying to run a farm business – a costly but necessary situation to becoming productive organic cranberry growers. Jared and Jessica also described the process of flooding the fields from a pond on-site to wet harvest in September and October. These harvested berries are then washed and frozen in at a certified processor in Portland. Freezing the berries allows them to juice year-round.
The second half of the farm walk was spent at Starvation Alley’s juicing facility in town. Complete with a cute store front for tourists, the facility includes a commercial kitchen where they process and bottle their juice. They currently juice their own organic berries for a certified organic juice as well as berries from local and transitioning growers (like Chase) for a non-organic juice that they call “Local Harvest” juice. Even though it’s not organic, Jared and Jessica felt it important to support local growers.
Attendees were able to see some berry juicing in action, while Jared and Jessica described the process of research and development they went through to develop a cold-pressed juice. This included following food safety protocols that allowed them to sell into institutional markets. They also sell at farmer’s markets in both Seattle and Portland and have found a large niche market with bars that use their juice to create craft cocktails. On the whole, Jared and Jessica are keen on innovation whether it is in clever production practices in their bogs or unique marketing partnerships for their juice. This farm walk not only offered a peek into the challenges of growing organic cranberries, but into what it takes to grow a farm business.
Summary by Angela Anegon
This Farm Walk is supported in part by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2012-49400-19575. For more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov.